The release of their latest album, Negativity, on September 24 via the venerable Canadian label, Arts & Crafts, represents a sort of exorcism for the Providence, Rhode Island alt-country rockers, Deer Tick. In the year leading up to the release, Deer Tick’s charismatic leader, John McCauley, had to deal with a collapsed engagement with his partner and his father pleading guilty to federal charges of conspiracy and tax fraud. Channeling this despair and anger into his creative project, Negativity emerges as one of the band’s most cohesive and poignant efforts to date. We had the chance to catch up with keyboardist Rob Crowell to talk about the band’s most recent release.
BeatRoute: For someone who has their head in the sand since 2004, how would you describe your sound?
Rob Crowell: We’re a straight up rock ‘n’ roll band. I mean, there’s a lot of influences. Everyone in the band kinda loves everyone from Nirvana to Roy Orbison to The Replacements, you know? It’s diverse but it’s all rock ‘n’ roll.
BR: Lets talk about the new album, Negativity. Why that name? What negativity are you hinting at? Any interesting stories happen while recording this album?
RC: It’s kinda in fun and it’s kinda serious, I guess. I don’t want to speak to much because it’s John [McCauley, guitar/vocals], Dennis [Ryan, drums] and Ian [O’Neil, guitar] writing on it, but there are a lot of negative personal experiences that got written about on there. It’s also just the fact that it’s also kinda a ridiculous statement to call an album Negativity – it’s a little bit tongue and cheek.
I don’t know if you have seen the cover of it, yet. That’s not a Photoshop job. We actually have a plane flying around Rhode Island on a sunny day with a banner reading, “Negativity.” There sure was a lot of confused people.
There was a little bit more frostbite about it when we hired the same guy to fly the banner and the release date over the Newport Folk Festival. We were down there playing the late night. I was actually sitting at a picnic table eating when it flew over and I heard someone from the next picnic table say, “Hey look at that! Those Deer Tick guys are dicks.” I was sitting about two feet away from them.
It feels like every album stands out as a step in a different direction. I mean, Divine Providence was pushing towards the pretty live-off-the-floor-in-your-face-rock vibe. There’s a lot of quieter stuff on there that are overlooked because of the noise of the first three songs. This album is a little more – I mean, I hesitate to use the word “polished,” but it’s in a different direction. We’re taking a few cues from bands like Faith No More and ’80s Robert Plant. It’s a little more of a bigger thing. It’s built in the studios, whereas Divine Providence kinda incapsulated the live sound of the band.
BR: This is your first release with Canadian label Arts & Crafts. You guys have had problems with labels before… what made you shift to this label? What drew you to this label?
RC: I’ve always been a big fan of Arts & Crafts. They’ve had a lot of really great things on their label. They seem to take care of the bands well and foster a lot of good music and a lot of good collaborations including the artists on their label as well. I was really pleased when we went with them for our Canadian label.
BR: What is Deervana? Is that exactly what it seems to be, a Nirvana cover band?
RC: Deervana: well we originally did it for a friend’s birthday a few years back and then things kinda spiralled a little bit out of control with that.
We’ve been really selective about where we’ve done that, because we don’t really want it to turn into anything except for something that’s fun for us to do occasionally. The last time we did is before this was in Halifax. We were playing the Pop Explosion out there and the organizer was a friend of mine — I grew up in Halifax. So we did a secret show and did Deervana there.
Negativity was released on September 24 via Arts & Crafts. Catch Deer Tick at the West End Cultural Centre (Winnipeg) on October 16, at the Starlite Room (Edmonton) on October 18 and at Republik (Calgary) on October 19.
By Robyn Condon
Photo: Anna Webber